Oklahoma

Oklahoma's Wiley Post, First to Fly Solo Around the World

Between July 15 and 22, 1933, Wiley Post made the first successful solo flight around the world in an airplane named the "Winnie Mae." The single engine Lockheed Vega was equipped with a Sperry automatic pilot, a radio direction finder, and other new devices. The flight covered 15,596 miles in seven days, eighteen hours forty-nine minutes and was perhaps the most remarkable display of flying endurance of the decade.

In 1931, Post and navigator Harold Gatty had thrilled the nation by dashing around the world in the Winnie Mae. The flight was not only a great technical achievement, but one which demanded extraordinary fortitude. For over one hundred and six hours, neither Post nor Gatty had an opportunity to sleep. The flight's elapsed time of eight days, fifteen hours and fifty-one minutes far surpassed the previous record of twenty-one days set in 1929 by the airship "Graf Zeppelin."

Always fascinated by the scientific challenges of flight, in 1934 Wiley focused on high-altitude, long distance flight.

Wiley Post
Wiley Post, 1898-1935
The Winnie Mae
"Winnie Mae," Post's Lockheed Vega
Will Rogers and Wiley Post
Final photo of Post and Rogers, 1935

 

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Since the Winnie Mae's cabin could not be pressurized, he developed an early pressure suit. The suit was constructed of double-ply rubberized parachute cloth glued to a frame with pigskin gloves, rubber boots, and a plastic diver's helmet. The helmet had a removable faceplate that Post could seal when he reached a height of 17,000 feet and a liquid oxygen source breathing system.

In his first flight using the pressure suit, he reached 40,000 feet. Post set unofficial altitude records (as high as 50,000 ft.) and discovered the jet stream in the process.

In March 1935, Post flew from Burbank, CA to Cleveland, OH in the stratosphere using the jet stream. He took his famous five year-old single-engine Lockheed Vega 2,035 miles in 7 hours and 19 minutes with an average ground speed of 279 mph in a 179 mph aircraft. At times, his ground speed exceeded 340 mph. He attempted four transcontinental stratospheric flights, all ending in mechanical failure. However, Post's pioneering accomplishments were the first major practical advance in pressurized flight.

Post was considered one of the most colorful figures of early aviation. He set many records before being tragically killed in 1935 near Point Barrow, Alaska, in a crash that also took the life of his flying companion, humorist Will Rogers.